Attermire Scar - A crag for all seasons
by Mark Radtke
Photography by David Simmonite
The numbers of climbers seen at crags like Malham Cove, Kilnsey and Trow Gill these days might suggest that sport climbing is the style of choice for most operating on and visiting Yorkshire limestone yet despite the proliferation of the bolt, there is still stacks of fine trad to be had for those who are so inclined. Attermire Scar hosts a plethora of fine climbs where you’re pretty much guaranteed peace and solitude as you climb in a dramatic landscape evocative of a remote mountain setting rather than the gentle rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales.
Attermire occupies an elevated position on the hills above Settle and is best described as a small massif consisting of about six or seven independent buttresses each with its own character and style of routes. Despite its elevated position the various buttresses face east, south and west and shelter from the wind can be found , as can sun or shade depending on the weather and time of day. Indeed it can be a crag for all seasons, I have experienced great days at Attermire even in the depths of winter so long as the sun is shining. Most of the buttresses, with the exception of Victoria Cave, suffer little seepage after prolonged rain and dry quickly after a shower. The climbing is extensive with nearly 300 routes currently recorded. Whilst trad climbing predominates there is also some excellent sport climbing, although this is restricted to two distinct buttresses set some distance away from the central massif.
For the purpose of this article it seems logical to split it into two parts. In part one we’ll focus on the trad climbing which, in the main, is found on the crags of the central massif. In part two we’ll cover the sport climbing which is located on the outlying crags of Victoria Cave and the recently re-developed Alcove Buttress to which we’ll provide a new mini guide.
Matador (VS 4c) on the Lower Tier of the Main Crag.
Approach and Access
Approach to the central massif is made from a parking spot (lay-by) on the Settle to Malham road at the turn off to Stockdale Lane (NGR 836631). From the parking, walk up Stockdale Lane for 200m and where the road turns sharp right take the stile over the wall and continue north along the footpath over a slight rise where the massif is revealed directly ahead. From there continue along the marked path down and slightly right to a stile in the drystone wall. Open access to the various buttresses can be made from this point.
As you would expect with such an extensive and rambling crag, both the rock and routes can be of variable quality, but with so many routes to go at, you’d expect there to be one or two stunners and so there is. Since this article is aimed at the first time visitor, or the seasoned veteran looking to reacquaint themselves with a blast from their past, I will endeavour to point people to those areas with both quality rock and honest routes. People will probably get most out of a visit by selectively choosing their routes and being prepared to decamp and do a little walking between the various buttresses. I’m sure that once you’ve sampled the crag's character, the curiosity flame will be lit and you’ll continue to explore at your own discretion.
As you crest the rise on the approach footpath as described above, the various buttresses are easily identifiable. Up to the right of The Escarpment is a long crag attaining a height of about 25m with a fine looking wall of smooth white limestone gracing its right side and bounded by Horseshoe Cave. This is Moonshine Buttress. Directly ahead is the impressive Main Buttress forming two tiers and characterised by the Main Overhang at the right-hand end of the lower tier. This edge continues round to the left (east) and diverges into three tiers called Apex Buttress, but from this vantage point this is out of sight. At a lower level and roughly midway between the Main Buttress and The Escarpment is the obviously shaped and appropriately named Barrel Buttress, with its south face cut by distinctive vertical crack lines. Interestingly enough it was on Barrel Buttress where I led my first limestone route back in the late 70s so here’s where I’ll start the short tour. If you’re after some fine crack climbing head up to the Barrel Face, but don’t be fooled by the diminutive size of these little gems, they all pack a punch from the word go. Bouldery undercut starts are followed by committing jamming and laybacking and a determined approach will pay dividends. Protection is sometimes hard earned on these routes, but is usually good. It’s sometimes best to forget the guidebook grades, lest your ego be dented. Viper Direct (HVS), Plumbline (E2 5c) and Quad Crack (E3 5c) all provide routes that are pretty unique for Pennine limestone. For something a little less fierce, the Pinnacle Face just down and to the left (east) hosts a string of excellent and friendly Hard Severes including the fine Fantasy. Belays can easily be constructed at the top of these routes and it’s a great place to warm up.
Moving on to the Main Buttress, a number of quality climbs can be found in close proximity to each other. Routes on the Lower Tier normally finish by belaying on the ledge, but several can be turned into two-pitch routes by combing them with a second pitch on the Upper Tier.
At the left side of the main overhang are two unmissable E2s. Brutus at 5c takes the obvious line of cracks to the left of the corner and is a stout outing, but with bomber protection. Comer, also 5c, is slightly less well-protected and takes the corner to the right of Brutus. A belay/lower off can be arranged for both these routes on the ledge above Brutus.
The obvious shallow corner 10m left of Brutus is taken by Mellow Yellow (HVS 5b) and features fine bridging with good nut protection. Towards the right of Main Overhang is a leftward trending flake line which is the line of Amber Gambler (E3 6a, 6a). Heralded as Attermire's finest E3, the first pitch is technical and on perfect rock, whilst the second pitch off the ledge is less sustained, but still worthy. The current YMC guidebook will reveal a number of amenably graded routes on this section of the crag, but once again be prepared to have your ego dented. Apex Buttress round to the left (east) is host to numerous micro routes and traditionally has been treated as a ‘highball’ bouldering venue. If you’re in ‘in tune’ and ‘on song’ there’s plenty of sport to be had, with some fine fingery and powerful problems.
It takes about five minutes to walk from Barrel Buttress to Main Buttress and about 10 minutes up to The Escarpment. Although The Escarpment has good routes along its length the finest concentration of good routes and best rock are on the compact Moonshine Buttress. Hare's Wall Direct (E1 5b) is the major classic taking a direct line up a seemingly blank-looking wall, but in reality it’s littered with positive holds and plenty of neat little nut placements. It’s also long enough at about 80 feet to be really absorbing. Hare's Grip (E2 5c) provides a harder alternative with committing moves through the roof on the right. Whilst Moonshine (HS) further right again gives one of Yorkshire limestone’s finest Severes. Enjoy
Flakey (HS) on Pinnacle Face, Barrel Buttress
There are 18 sport routes spread over two buttresses at Attermire. Not much to go at you might say, but at each buttress there’s sufficient for at least two visits. The grade spectrum is F6c to F8a so will appeal to the seasoned sport climber looking for something a bit different. There’s plenty of on-sighting stuff and if you’re looking for a meatier project away from the usual hot spots, you can always get involved with Victorious (F8a) which to my knowledge is still awaiting a second ascent. Both Victoria Cave and Alcove Buttress can be approached from the central Attermire massif in about 20 minutes (30 minutes from the parking spot), but easier alternative approaches are possible.
The best approach is from a parking spot on the Langcliffe to Malham road. Drive out of Langcliffe village up the hill. Once through the zigzags the road levels out and there is an open grassy parking area on the right just before the cattle grid. Follow the path away from the road crossing a couple of stiles and through a gate. Follow the path along the wall until it rises up to the cave on the left. About 15 minutes from the car. The crag faces southwest and gets its fair share of sun, but needs several days to dry after long spells of rain and is probably a late spring and summer crag. In really hot weather the entrance to the Cave can offer cool and shade. The climbing tends to be steep, sustained and intimidating, but is generally on good holds and those operating at F7a and above will get most out of the crag. On first appearance the whole crag looks a little unstable (I should know it took me several visits over about four years before I convinced myself to abseil down it and bolt Lost in Thought). Don’t be put off, it’s pretty solid and most of the lines have seen plenty of traffic. The main lines have been re-equipped recently with resin anchors; all have lower offs. The crag is a designated an SSSI so no further bolting is permitted. People regularly visit the site because of its archaeological significance, so please exercise care when visitors start milling about in the cave entrance and you’re climbing above them. The routes are between 20m and 25m in length, but often feel longer. When dry, several of the routes are as good as any around. The main events are Sven Vath (F7a) which climbs easily up the left wall of the cave and then tackles a steep line of weakness up the left side of the headwall. Soulsports (F7c) breaks out right of Sven Vath and tackles steep technical ground to the right. Lost in Thought and Lost in Time (F7b+) is described as a contender for one of Yorkshire's top 10 sport routes. It starts at the right side of the cave and is essentially a route of two halves. Steep and intimidating jug pulling leads to the break above the lip of the cave and a no-hands rest. Steep technical wall climbing defines the second and crux half of the climb. There are no easy warm ups there, but Victorian Dig (F7a) on the buttress left of the main cave is a little less intimidating than routes in the main cave. A number of other worthwhile sport routs are worth a look and all are documented in the current YMC limestone guide. There are a number of trad routes which originate from the crag's first phase of development and Horrorscope (E4 5c) in particular is an exciting and airy lip trip across the obvious break in either direction. Just choose your start.
Like Victoria Cave the buttress can be approached from the main Attermire climbing areas, but the quickest approach is from part way up Stockdale Lane. Drive up Stockdale Lane for about a mile. The buttress can be seen up to the left. Parking is available for three or four cars on the verges at a sharp right-hand bend. Several gates access the fields, so avoid irritating the farmer and park sensibly. Enter the field with the FP sign and follow the obvious path that leads back towards the main crag. Cross two streams and pass through two five-bar gates and arrive at a sign indicating that you are now ‘in the Attermire Nature Reserve’. Follow a vague path up the hillside alongside the far boundary wall to arrive at the buttress up and right; 20 minutes. (Avoid striking directly up the hillside in the direction of the crag too early, breaches can be seen in the wall up the hillside, but crossing boundary walls even in a state of disrepair is likely to anger the farmer.)
The crag has been re-developed recently, some of its earlier routes were protected by pegs and threads and these routes have been retro-bolted, in addition several new lines have been climbed making it well worth a visit. All the sport routes have lower offs. The crag is a steep buttress of compact rock. The routes are between 15m and 20m in length and although fairly short tend to be powerful and technical. The crag has a pleasant feel about it facing south great views out across the Dales. It dries quickly after rain. Young Frankenstein (F6b), Driller Killer (F7a), Offwithereds (F7a+) and Assorted Jams (F7b) are all recommended.
THE CLIMBS. These are described from left-to-right looking at the crag and the trad routes are included as points of reference. Although short, the climbs on the main buttress can be difficult to read on first acquaintance and are graded accordingly.
1. September Arête 13m VD
Climbs the tall blunt arête and groove some 50m left of Alcove Buttress proper. A wide gash is present down to the left of the arête.
At the left side of the buttress are two leftward trending cracks.
2. Niggling Crack 13m HVS 5b
Climb the short left-hand crack and blocky ground above. Good belays well back.
3. Summertime Blues 13m E1 5b
The pocketed wall between the two cracks moving left to gain and finish up the hanging groove crux.
4. Dodderer Direct 13m E1 5c
Climb the short right-hand crack to a small ledge. Avoid the loose groove on the left by climbing carefully up blocky ground on the right.
5. Bella Lugosi’s Dead 13m F6c+
The bolted line to the right. Climb the problematic wall (crux) to good holds below the obvious groove. Enter the groove and climb it to the lower-off.
Two metres right two mouth-like slots can be seen at the top of the steep smooth wall. The next route starts below these mouths.
6. Curse of the Gummy 18m E4 6b
Gain the mouth-like slots from the vague diedre on the right. (Thin and bold.) Climb the blocky overhang above passing an old peg (needs replacing). A good route and a fine example of late 80s limestone trad.
7. Driller Killer 13m F7a
The bolted line just right. Originally protected by pegs but now fully sportified. Excellent technical wall climbing leads to an exciting finale to gain good holds and an easier finish.
8. Young Frankenstein 14m F6b
A comedic creation. The steep wall via obvious glued-on bits to a double bolt lower-off up and right. A good route despite the manufacturing; a good warm-up.
The following three routes all have a common start at the obvious pockets at the left side of the roof. The start alone makes a great V4 boulder problem.
9. Hammer House of Horror 18m F7a
Step off the block and climb the initial roof with difficulty to gain the slim groove and rest (crux). Move up to the next roof and circumnavigate this on the left passing a bolt to a good rest in the groove. (The crux of Fused Fiction, originally protected by the large thread.) Climb the nice rib above without recourse to bridging and finish airily over the final capping roof on the left; double bolt lower-off. A good climb albeit marred by the no-hands rest after the second roof.
10. Driller Killer 2 16m F7c
Start as for HHoH and move into the slim groove for a shake-out. Move back left and make a hard bouldery sequence up and left passing a small ‘chipped’ hold and two bolts to gain good holds. Move left and finish up Young Frankenstein or join and finish up HHoH.
11. Offwithereds 18m F7a+
The route of the crag and a great climb. Follow HHoH but rather than escaping left at the mid-height roof climb directly up and right through the bulges gaining a good spike and passing three bolts to rejoin and finish up HHoH near the top.
A few metres right is the start of:
12. Fused Fiction 20m E3 5c
Climb the obvious overhung leftward slanting ramp line to the in situ sling in the roof. Climb the roof on the left (bolt on HHoH) and follow the easier grove leftwards to the top of the crag. A bit dirty, but a good route when dusted off.
13. Assorted Jams 18m F7b
Start just right of Fused Fiction. The obvious roof past three bolt runners is a brutal exercise in powerful and sometimes painful undercutting rather than jamming. After an easy start an exacting sequence out right (three bolt runners) gains an exciting escape onto the wall; finish up Mollygone. A hard fought battle and very novel.
14. Mollygone 18m F6c+
Climb the overhanging wall just left of the arête. Pull round rightwards into the vertical by the third bolt. Climb the wall above with a technical section on the headwall passing the bolts on the right. (Easier if finished up the blunt arête just left of the bolts.) A good route if the obvious escapes are resisted.
15. New Delight 18m HVS 5b
Climb the obvious corner on the right for four metres. Traverse diagonally left across the wall and finish up the groove left of Mollygone.
16. Delight 20m S 4b
The obvious corner in its entirety.